Lebanese premier accuses Hezbollah of blocking government

Lebanon's prime minister-designate on Tuesday accused Hezbollah of hindering the formation of a new government six months after parliamentary elections were held, a reflection of growing tensions amid serious concerns over the country's faltering economy.

At a press conference in Beirut, Saad Hariri said "it's Hezbollah, full stop," when asked who was blocking the formation of a government. He said the Shiite militant group bears full responsibility for the consequences, including Lebanon's flagging economy.

Hariri stopped short of resigning, however, saying there was still an opportunity to bridge the differences.

Hariri, the top Sunni Muslim leader in the country, is coming under increasing pressure from the Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah, which insists that six Sunni legislators allied with Hezbollah be represented in the new Cabinet. Hariri flatly rejects the demand, saying the six independent legislators are not part of a parliamentary bloc and are therefore not entitled to have a minister in the cabinet.

"The truth is that government formation has hit a big obstacle," Hariri said.

Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections in nine years in May but political bickering over the distribution has stood in the way of government formation.

Giving Hariri's Sunni opponents a Cabinet seat is the latest delay in the formation after months of negotiations gave the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces four cabinet seats, including that of deputy prime minister. Hezbollah will likely get three seats, the biggest number of ministers ever for the group, including the health ministry.

Some analysts link Hezbollah's insistence on representing the independent Sunni legislators in the Cabinet to a new wave of U.S. sanctions against its patron Iran that went into effect on Nov 5.

Hariri insisted however that the obstacles were not linked to external politics.

Further delays in the government are increasing pressure on the country's struggling economy and endanger international donors' pledges of $11 billion in loans and grants to help debt-ridden Lebanon. Those projects that were agreed on during a conference in Paris in April as well as reforms to unlock those loans will have to be carried out by the new government in Lebanon.

Lebanon has the third largest debt in the world of about $85 billion or 155 percent of the gross domestic product. The economy is also suffering from high unemployment and little growth.